The Spider’s Pardon

“I’ve done terrible things too.”Peter Parker in Spiderman 3

Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t seen Spiderman 3 and plan to, you might not want to read this post! This review is almost as long and exaggeratedly detailed as the movie itself.

If you’ve heard anything about the new Spiderman movie, you will have already heard what I’m about to say: There were too many subplots in Spiderman 3. The action scenes moved at a computer-driven velocity beyond the limits of the human eye to follow, and the “relationship” scenes seemed to drag on mercilessly. There was enough content in the movie for three separate movies (at least two, one featuring the Venom, the malignant symbiont from space, and another with the Sandman) and more fluff than can be found at a state sheep-shearing contest. That said, there were also a lot of very important moral and spiritual messages that I hope won’t be lost on audiences, especially younger people.

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 ESV).

A movie critic on NPR said it would have been nice to have had a truly conflicted protagonist without the black thing from space to make him evil. Although it’s true that Venom did have a serious impact on Peter Parker’s psyche, he was already headed down a dark path from the very beginning of the movie. Where Spiderman had previously been hated by civil officials, defamed by the official media and either feared or admired by the rank-and-file citizenry, the beginning of this movie shows him as a renowned hero. Scheduled to receive official honors and the key to the city, he can’t seem to see past himself to realize that his beloved Mary Jane is suffering. Her career, which had just begun to show promise, has crashed and burned, but he’s too caught up in the thrill of fame and public accolades to hear her. The crushing blow comes at the city ceremony where he swoops in and receives an upside-down kiss, that “special” kiss that previously only Spiderman and Mary Jane had shared.

It’s the old lesson that whenever everyone loves you, you are in the greatest danger. Christians should be able to appreciate something of their movement’s history in this story, though. In the first century of the church, Christians were hated by civil leaders, mocked by philosophers and either loved or rejected by the general population. Yet, when Constantine became emperor, Christianity came into vogue and the bishops donned imperial garb. Pride puffed up the body of Christ, inflated by the seemingly worldwide acceptance of this as the true faith. What seemed an enormous victory was, if not a defeat, a terrible decline. So it is today, if the church becomes the established faith of a nation. I mean this not as an attack on the Church of England or any other such national church, but as an indictment of American evangelicalism’s aspirations to empire.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV).

Spiderman’s personal failings were exacerbated by the advent of Venom. Taken over in his sleep by a dark and malevolent goo, Peter Parker becomes even more self-absorbed, overbearing and foolish. Clinging to his flesh and stirring up every evil passion in his heart, Peter’s own inclinations are pushed to an extreme.

So we find two men in one church. One is the reporter whose career Parker ruined in exposing his photo fraud in a cover story for the newspaper. Eddie Brock kneels in the chapel in prayer, asking God to kill Peter Parker. Up in the bell tower of the same church, Spiderman wrestles to remove his suit of darkness. One is in the house of worship seeking vengeance, while the other is on the margins struggling for redemption.

Am I making too much of that?

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:7-9 ESV).

Both before and after his possession by the symbiont, Peter Parker sowed some pretty nasty seed. He killed a man in the first movie he thought had killed his uncle, abused Mary Jane’s confidence in him and then proceeded, with Venom, to tear down Eddie Brock, shame Mary Jane publicly and generally just be a jerk. Every bit of it came back to haunt him.
“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:14-16 ESV)

Normally mild-mannered Peter Parker forgets who he his, lowers his standards and fails as a person. His humanity, made in the image of God, is marred by bitterness, anger and ego. It’s interesting how, in an age that has spoken so much about moral relativism, we find a superhero that implicitly believes in an unspoken moral code, one that he sees enacted at every turn. Absolutes are implied and unintended consequences abound when they are not respected.

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 ESV).

Release is not finally found in murder and mayhem inflicted on one’s enemies. Holding on to a grudge only creates a cancer in the innermost being that eats away at your soul. I know, I’ve been there. When I read the passage from Matthew quoted above, I no longer read it legalistically, worrying about whether I’ve forgiven enough to be forgiven (that never worked anyway). I read this passage and others with a view towards the underlying principle that, if I don’t forgive, my heart is in not condition to receive mercy. It’s a heart problem that needs to be treated.

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:12-15 ESV).

Forgiveness heals the forgiver and offers restoration to the forgiven. New life can only come when the old hurts and offenses are cut off and cast away. The new day of life and hope can only shine on those who, from the heart, learn the lesson of the Spider’s pardon. The church, the body of Christ on earth, is called to be the community of reconciliation in this world. If that is the case, how will we ever fulfill God’s mission of cleansing the river of humanity if our own little rivulet is itself polluted?

There are many who probably don’t deserve my forgiveness, but then there are probably others as well (some of their faces I can see with my mind’s eye) who would also withhold mercy from me for past sins. Lord help me if I contaminate the fellowship of the sanctified with my unmerciful spirit.

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